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The Invention Of Islamophobia

Anyone who suggests that there is a war being waged by Muslims in their own lands and in the lands in which they have settled—these last, by the way, are the really aggressive “settlers”!—against rationalists and true liberals, traditional conservatives and Islamic dissenters, Christians and Jews is likely to be labeled an “Islamophobe.” I have been, and thousands of you out there, perhaps millions, have been so labeled...or almost. And, at dinner with friends, have anyone of you just raised questions about the tyranny of silence which the “politically so correct” are trying to impose on those who are fearful of the admixture of faith and bombs and then not found yourselves attacked as at least “intolerant” and perhaps even a bigot? Or, yes, even an Islamophobe.

Pascal Bruckner was one of those, then young, nouveaux philosophes, who sprung on the scene in the early seventies and delivered lethal intellectual blows to the radical conformism of much of French thought. As a by-product of this struggle of the minds Jean-Paul Sartre was also unseated as the reigning demi-god of the French mind (and displaced in some way by Raymond Aron, his contemporary and long-time antagonist.) The new philosophers are still writing and speaking against the vulgarities of Sartre’s successors, the most vulgar of whom is Slavoj Zizek but taken on by both Bruckner and my friend Bernard-Henri Levy.

A surgical dissection of Islamophobia, its origins and uses, has been needed for some time. Bruckner, the consummate French essayist, has now done a short and withering one, published in English in after a translation from Liberation.

The entire essay is very much worth reading. But here are three paragraphs of its essence:

At the end of the 1970s, Iranian fundamentalists invented the term "Islamophobia" formed in analogy to "xenophobia". The aim of this word was to declare Islam inviolate. Whoever crosses this border is deemed a racist. This term, which is worthy of totalitarian propaganda, is deliberately unspecific about whether it refers to a religion, a belief system or its faithful adherents around the world.

But confession has no more in common with race than it has with secular ideology. Muslims, like Christians, come from the Arab world, Africa, Asia and Europe, just as Marxists, liberals and anarchists come or came from all over. In a democracy, no one is obliged to like religion, and until proved otherwise, they have the right to regard it as retrograde and deceptive. Whether you find it legitimate or absurd that some people regard Islam with suspicion—as they once did Catholicism—and reject its aggressive proselytism and claim to total truth—this has nothing to do with racism.

...The term "Islamophobia" serves a number of functions: it denies the reality of an Islamic offensive in Europe all the better to justify it; it attacks secularism by equating it with fundamentalism. Above all, however, it wants to silence all those Muslims who question the Koran, who demand equality of the sexes, who claim the right to renounce religion, and who want to practice their faith freely and without submitting to the dictates of the bearded and doctrinaire. It follows that young girls are stigmatised for not wearing the veil, as are French, German or English citizens of Maghribi, Turkish, African or Algerian origin who demand the right to religious indifference, the right not to believe in God, the right not to fast during Ramadan. Fingers are pointed at these renegades, they are delivered up to the wrath of their religions communities in order to quash all hope of change among the followers of the Prophet.

Islamophobia—that is, the word itself—is meant to silence you. It has already silenced President Obama, hasn’t it? He hasn’t even spoken up for his fellow Christians who in recent weeks have been victimized in Iraq (where maybe we still wave some sway), Egypt (our very expensive ally), Nigeria, Pakistan et al.